Extremely hard, damage-tolerant ceramic coatings with functionally graded, periodically varying architecture

Document Type

Journal Article




Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science


School of Engineering




This article was originally published as: Wo, P., Zhao, X. , Munroe, P., Zhou, Z., Li, K., Habibi, D. , & Xie, Z. (2013). Extremely hard, damage-tolerant ceramic coatings with functionally graded, periodically varying architecture . Acta Materialia, 61(1), 193-204. Original article available here


Functionally graded, multilayer coatings consisting of alternating TiN/TiSiN layers were synthesized in an attempt to overcome the innate brittleness of TiSiN nanocomposite coatings, whilst maintaining high hardness. These coatings exhibited key structural characteristics that are known to render many naturally occurring materials extremely hard and robust. Transmission electron microscopy revealed that shear sliding of columnar TiN grains played a vital role in controlling the inelastic deformation of these coatings, conferring a greater resistance to contact damage. Moreover, nanoindentation experiments showed that the multilayer coatings exhibited high hardness, attributed to the strong shear resistance offered by the hard TiSiN layers. A dependence of coating hardness upon indentation penetration depth (h t) was found to be proportional to 1/√h t, according to a mechanistically based model, from which the shear stress was determined. The energy dissipation during indentation was also quantified to show the critical role of the shear stress, regulated by the thickness of TiSiN layers, in resisting contact damage in the coatings. Finite-element models were constructed and the presence of transgranular cracks in the monolithic TiSiN coating was clarified based upon experimental observations. Furthermore, the simulations revealed that the transition of the dominant deformation mechanism from brittle transgranular cracking to intergranular shear sliding was controlled by the microstructural characteristics of the coatings. Enabled by the shear sliding, as well as periodic changes in elastic modulus, such a functionally graded multilayer structure was effective in lowering the magnitude and extent of stress concentrations, thereby extending the damage tolerance accessible to a ceramic coating.